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Updated: Positive Test flying to the States: what do you do? Personal experience. Delta variant

Edit update: Health service is overwhelmed with Omicron now. Isolation is lowered to 7 days, less direct help from National healthcare available. Airline personnel have had more experience with covid-recovered passengers now than a month ago.

Original post: Mid-November, after exposure to C-19, I tested positive--, 13 days before a flight to the States. My French Pass sanitaire went dead. I received a government letter to isolate for 10 days, beginning with the date of first symptoms. The surprise is that after symptoms and Covid disappear, you can test positive for up to three months--with the Delta variant. How do you board a flight to the States?

  1. After isolating 7 days, you need to obtain a doctor’s letter stating you are recovered. Make this appointment as soon as possible.
  2. 8 days after your positive swab, your Pass sanitaire will come back online.
  3. You must fill out the attestation from the CDC, provided by the airline, stating in box #3 that you tested positive, are beyond 10 days since the swab, and have a doctor or health department letter stating you are recovered. US regulations. 4 When the attestation is turned to an airline employee, the airline employee will need to take the time to read both box #3 and the letter. This could be a trickly moment. The CDC form is in English, the MD letter in French. No one in the US asked for the documentation, but they could.

Pam in Idaho sent me the information for flying to the States with a positive Covid test. Merci. This information was last updated by the CDC on Dec 6.

"If you recently recovered from COVID-19, you may instead travel with documentation of recovery from COVID-19 (i.e., your positive COVID-19 viral test result on a sample taken no more than 90 days before the flight’s departure from a foreign country and a letter from a licensed healthcare provider or a public health official stating that you were cleared to travel)."

(Further down the page under FAQ)
"People who have recovered from COVID-19 can continue to test positive for up to 3 months after their infection. CDC does not recommend retesting within 3 months after a person with COVID-19 first developed symptoms of COVID-19 (or the date their sample was taken for their first positive viral diagnostic test if their infection was asymptomatic).
If you have had a positive viral test on a sample taken during the past 90 days, and you have met the criteria to end isolation, you may travel instead with your positive viral test results and a signed letter from a licensed healthcare provider or a public health official that states you have been cleared for travel. The positive test result and letter together are referred to as “documentation of recovery.”
A letter from your healthcare provider or a public health official that clears you to end isolation, e.g., to return to work or school, can be used to show you are cleared to travel, even if travel isn’t specifically mentioned in the letter. The letter must have information that identifies you personally (e.g., name and date of birth) that matches the personal identifiers on your passport or other travel documents. The letter must be signed and dated on official letterhead that contains the name, address, and phone number of the healthcare provider or public health official who signed the letter.
If you have recovered from COVID-19 but are not able to obtain documentation of recovery that fulfills the requirements, you will need to show a negative COVID-19 viral test result from a sample taken no more than 3 days (or 1 day if you are not fully vaccinated) before your flight to the US departs.
Even if you have recovered from COVID-19, if you develop symptoms of COVID-19 you should isolate, not travel, and consult with a healthcare provider for testing recommendations."

Stay masked!

Posted by
13697 posts

Bets! So glad you and DH made it back to the winter scene in the heartland! Quite a contrast to the South of France, I'm sure.

Your heart must have stopped when the guy was taking so long to decide on your documentation.

I'm glad the CDC info helped you. As you know I was anxious about testing positive at the end of my stay in France and had practically memorized the CDC website in regard to the procedure before a return trip to the US.

Thanks so much for posting this. It will be helpful to others I am sure!

Posted by
1566 posts

Wow. Thanks for sharing. This is something anyone who travels during this time has to take into consideration.

We received a notification, the day after our return, that we were "close contacts" of someone who had tested positive. Since this notification came from the health authority in the UK, we assume that means we were exposed on our flight from Italy to London (where we transferred to our flight home to Calgary). The notification ordered us to isolate for 10 days, but we checked with our own health authority, and they don't require isolation unless one is symptomatic. Still, to be sure, we purchased our own antigen tests and tested after 3 days and after 7 days (both negative). It's 10 days as of today, and neither of us have developed symptoms.

We weren't overly worried, since we both wore KN95 masks at the airport and for the entire duration of the flight--we didn't eat or drink on that flight. Still, the man sitting next to my husband did remove his mask to drink, and my husband had to remind him to put it back on afterward. Overall, people were good about masking on that flight, and the airline crew was good about enforcing it (unlike our flight from London to Calgary, but that's another story).

This and your experience both demonstrate that travel still comes with risks of catching Covid and having to quarantine and/or being denied boarding, so everyone who travels at this time needs to be aware of the rules and have some plans in place, just in case.

Posted by
1934 posts

This and your experience both demonstrate that travel still comes with
risks of catching Covid and having to quarantine and/or being denied
boarding, so everyone who travels at this time needs to be aware of
the rules and have some plans in place, just in case.

This. Unfortunately we are still a long ways from normal travel and everyone needs to be aware of how the rules work and plan accordingly.

Posted by
752 posts

Bets, thank you so much for sharing your experience. And so glad to hear that you’re healthy and back in the States. This is information I could find nowhere else, it is no doubt the most important bookmark I will make this year. Can any doctolib doctor issue the MD letter clearing you for travel? What proof would you need to show them at the appointment?

Posted by
6350 posts

Welcome back, Bets. I hadn't known that one can test positive for three months after recovery. Sorry you got sick, glad you were able to navigate the return safely, and best wishes for continued good health. And happy holidays too!

Posted by
10054 posts

First, the French health authorities didn't want the names of anyone we were in contact with before symptoms started. This correlates with your local health authority, BB. Perhaps because we are vaccinated?? I was told I didn’t have to isolate after exposure because I was fully vaccinated. I did have to isolate once I was positive, though. Also, the TV news doctor reported that vaccinated people are contagious only six days after the start of symptoms. Edit: 5 with Omicron

Barbara, our doctor is 50 meters on the other side of our courtyard in France. He just looked at our dates, saw we had no more fever, were beyond the 10 days and wrote the letters. We preceded the surge by a week; by the time we saw him, he was slammed. I would ask the pharmacy or landlord if you were in an apartment or ask your hotel. Personal contact helps.

Ladies: lab results could be in your maiden name, so be sure the doctor's letter gets it right. The Americans use one, the French the other.

You have two sets of important dates: date of first symptoms and date of swab. Your isolation is counted in France from the date of the first symptoms, but your health pass is dead for 10 days from the date of the positive PCR swab. Results come the same day most of the time. (Someone in Germany was isolated from the date of PCR swab, so it varies.) As soon as you can drag yourself out the door, get that swab. If the antigen is positive, get the PCR immediately because that's when your clock will start ticking. Our doctor was good enough to write the letters based on the symptom dates. The airline employee counted the days on the PCR result, which you need to have printed out. I just made it. Edit: not everyone is told to get a PCR. Labs are swamped. So assume your 7 days will be counted from the day of your antigen test.

Thank you Dick. It was less than a cold, but I couldn't smell the coffee for a few days. I thought the experience and steps were important to share.

Posted by
1259 posts

Excellent thread. Begs the question: You test positive, you need to isolate 10-14 days in-country. How and where do you do that? Hotel? BnB? How do you pay for it?

Posted by
10054 posts

bogiesan, That's a good question; I don't know. Maybe someone who had to go to a hotel or airbnb will chime in. The French health system gives you a telephone number to call for help: errands, room for isolation, etc., most likely a budget accommodation. You pay for your accommodation. When we called about something last week, the woman I spoke with said she had 80 calls waiting.

We were lucky to be in our own apartment in France. I had Monoprix deliver food. Since our cases overlapped, we had only five days when we were both isolated, unable to get a fresh baguette.

Posted by
156 posts


Thanks for all the info (and welcome back to dreary Indiana). I have no present intention to travel but I’ve been helping a friend plan for her first trip and this is invaluable info.

For now, I’ll just fantasize about returning. We were lucky enough to spend two weeks in Paris in February of 2020. I sometimes wonder whether we were exposed then. We both felt ill on the way home (but more with GI issues) but no one we encountered once we were home got sick (that we were aware of). So we tend to think not. And we had COVID for certain in October. Both vaccinated and transmitted to my husband at work by someone who was vaccinated. Both of are recovered just fine but it wasn’t the most fun we’ve had!

Posted by
3877 posts

Thanks so much for a clear account of what was/is required. As much knowledge as we have ahead, in case it is needed, is so beneficial. First hand accounts are kind of hard to come by. And thanks to Pam for finding the necessary regulations!

Posted by
3924 posts

Bets thank you for taking the time to relay all of these details to people who have plans to travel or are already in Europe wondering these very same things. Welcome back, enjoy your time with family and take care.

Posted by
7902 posts

so finding a doctor will be the tricky part for a tourist who does not have a doctor in France. Any advice on how an American visitor could book such an appointment?

Posted by
10054 posts

Janet, I’d try to use the same neighborhood pharmacy to develop a relationship, so that, when you need something, such as the name of a doctor, you’ve already become one of their repeat customers. Next, ask the landlord or the hotel for help. Personal relationships grease the wheels. Not always up to date, but credit card companies have referral services. Finally, you could call the Embassy or Consulate or the American Hospital in Neuilly for one of their doctors.

Posted by
10144 posts

Bets, I’m happy to hear you were able to board the plane and successfully get back to the U.S. This information is invaluable to those of us who want to travel. Welcome back!

Posted by
3961 posts

Thanks Bets for sharing your experience. Appreciated the latest CDC update from 12/2/21. Such important information for those who have chosen to travel. So glad it all worked out for you. In good health. ;)

Posted by
45 posts

Thank you for posting this. We are traveling in April so fingers crossed for a relatively covid-free trip.

Posted by
9354 posts

Bets, thank you for this very detailed and helpful post.

Posted by
572 posts

Thanks, Bets and Pam!

We had planned to add a week on both ends of our Rick Steves France tour in May, but I think it would be less stressful to depart for home at the end of the tour when the guide will still be with us.

I'll follow the CDC for updates.

Posted by
610 posts

Thank you Bets! Very thorough, very helpful. Glad to hear you did not have severe symptoms and were able to return to the US after your isolation. This whole situation is worrisome. 1st, because one does not want to get Covid. My husband and I are in our 70s and we think it's a very good idea to avoid it. 2nd because of how difficult and possibly expensive it might be to deal with having Covid in a foreign country and all that entails. So all this very clear information is extremely helpful. It is very much appreciated.

Posted by
10054 posts

Sorry Aimee. I just saw your question.
No one at US Passport control asked for the documents or any health services upon arrival. They were checked only at boarding in France.